Sheep & Goats: ¡Latin Music Espectáculo! – plus Casting Crowns, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, & More

Music — By on March 5, 2013 at 5:21 am

You don’t look to the Managing Editor of Entertainment Weekly for music tips, but it was still jaw-dropping to read this in his post-Grammy editorial: “Mumford & Sons’ victory established folk rock as the most exciting and artful movement in music right now.” Do people really think that? Apparently so — EW ran a cover story on the “movement” the following week, and worship music has started biting the Mumfords’ style like they’re a new U2. Nothing against the Mumfords, who basically resemble what you’d get if Coldplay replaced ZZ Top in Back to the Future III, but surely folk rock is only the most exciting and artful music played by acoustic instruments, covered by Entertainment Weekly (a Time Warner company), and directed at English-speaking brains — if that. (I’d still take jazz, fwiw.)

Where I live, in the northern suburbs of Chicago, the winner of Most Exciting And Artful Musical Movement is currently banda from the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. Like English folk music, banda’s been around for a long time and is enjoying one of its periodic resurgences. If you’re seeking acoustic radio hits, the big swinging horn sections of Roberto Tapia, La Arrolladora Banda El Limón, and Banda El Recodo get as much radio play as the Mumfords, the Lumineers, and their ilk. One of our seven (!) Spanish-language FM stations recently changed its slogan from “Más Y Más Música” to “Banda Y Más,” which seems significant, though several other Latino genres are hot on banda’s heels. This is the cultural bounty of demographic shift, of course; the suburbs where I live and work are both younger and more Hispanic than the country at large. But if the last presidential election taught us anything, it’s that diversificación is sweeping the nation, so with any luck your radio waves and public library will soon carry some of the following, if they don’t already. (Or you can click on most of the titles below to stream them.)

SHEEP OF THE MONTH:

Noel Torres - La Estructura (Disco - Album Official 2013)Noel Torres
La Estructura
(Sony Latin)

The most astounding thing about this pretty boy isn’t how well he plays accordion (flashy!), his singing voice (straightforward and serious, not even any “ai-yi-yi!”s), or even the ease with which he jumps from full-banda lushness to stripped-down narcocorridos, the sometimes violent drug-trafficking tropes that energize norteño music in general, and music from Torres’s home state of Sinaloa specifically. No, what’s astounding is how brutally his rhythm section rocks waltzes. As composer of half his songs and arranger of all, Torres gets his waltzes to sound as sleek and powerful as the guns he uses for publicity props, with accordion and bajo sexto whirling around the tuba, and a drummer who bashes like he’s playing with John Zorn. I doubt Torres would cut it as a gangster, his glorification of capos and cartels is problematic at best, and if he starts singing you a love song you should probably catch the next cab home. Except maybe wait until his band finishes playing, because holy cow.

OTHER SHEEP:

felicianoJosé Feliciano
My Love For México
(Siente/Universal)

The first 30 seconds tell you most of what you need to know: an opening harp glissando, horns and strings playing the riff, a burly male chorus singing “la la la,” and Feliciano’s unmistakable voice slipping into a scratchy falsetto while his guitar keeps the beat. No drums anywhere. The Puerto Rican Feliciano works his way through the Great Mariachi Songbook faithfully but never stiffly; from the arrangements to Feliciano’s vocal flights, these songs feel like they could go anywhere at any time. I suppose the closest comparison is Rod Stewart’s collection of Great American stocking stuffers, but where those renditions suffer from over-familiarity, these songs overflow with life.

radio exitosVarious Artists
Radio Éxitos: El Disco Del Año 2012
(Fonovisa ‘12)

Succinct proof that Latin pop does not all sound the same. Roberto Tapia’s “Mirando Al Cielo,” a huge radio éxito, is tangibly, objectively, unquestionably better than most of this comp’s other banda ballads — not that they’re bad, but Tapia’s sensory pleasure is sharper and clearer, and he’s simply got more going on. This compilation collects two more of 2012’s best singles from any genre: Banda El Recodo’s “Sin Respiración” and Calibre 50’s completely insane duet with Banda Carnaval, “Gente Batallosa.” (Calibre’s second entry sounds sort of like Maná covering a Tom Waits sea shanty.) Radio Éxitos isn’t a banda comp per se, but bandas cast their shadow over most of the rest. 3BallMTY features bandleader El Bebeto on the technocumbia “Inténtalo”; the female-fronted duranguense group Los Horóscopos joins forces with rotund king of smarm Chuy Lizárraga and his horns. When the bandas are nowhere around, guitar and accordion virtuosos abound. It’s not album of the year, but a worthwhile introduction with more greatness than your typical NOW or WOW collection.

caporalesLos Caporales de Chihuahua
Y De Nuevo Bailando Con…
(Goma)

Dance bands from Chihuahua often throw a saxophone into the mix, along with accordion and rhythm section — see also genre leaders and frequent Grammy nominees Conjunto Primavera, whose singer has one of the most gorgeous voices in Mexico. Los Caporales aren’t so lucky; their singers are pretty anodyne, but once they hit a groove and sax and accordion reel off riff after riff, you stop caring about the singers. Dances here include the “Tamarindo,” “La Charanga,” “La Chispita,” and “La Gallinita,” for which Google image shows a bunch of fat cartoon hens. Nuevo Bailando reminds me of such demi-classics as the Dovells’ 1963 album For Your Hully Gully Party — not real memorable, but it’ll never not sound good.

veronica fallsVeronica Falls
Waiting For Something to Happen
(Slumberland)

[One of these albums is not like the others.] They’re a co-ed harmonies-and-guitars group for whom the classic R.E.M. rhythm section is all and everything, so muscularity and twee-ness go hand in hand, much like the adorable couple in first single “Teenage.” There and elsewhere, the Brits specialize in taking small, familiar moments — driving somebody home, stargazing, being buried alive in flowers — and stretching them, gently, to reveal roiling songwriter brains full of mirth and especially yearning. “I wanna get sick / I wanna catch everything you’ve ever had,” and who among us hasn’t wished we didn’t feel the same?

adictivaLa Adictiva Banda San José de Mesillas
Muchas Gracias
(Sony Latin)

Presumably Adictiva’s way of thanking fans for giving them a big hit (2011’s “Te Amo Y Te Amo”), Muchas Gracias gets generic, but songs two through four are as good as banda sequencing gets: the single “Haciendo El Amor,” a long melody that gradually unfurls over complex horn charts; the title song, which in a different setting could be a keening doo-wop monologue; and “Mi Gordis,” a corker of a cumbia. The other standout is Juan Diego Sandoval’s atypically minor-key “Lo Que No Te Mereces.” The rest is pleasant, samey, and mercifully brief.

SHEEPISH SINGLES:

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Sacrilege”

If you don’t have any Lutheran Facebook friends you might have missed this story: In December after the shootings, a Newtown pastor in one of the more conservative Lutheran church bodies gave a benediction at a local interfaith prayer vigil. (Baha’i and Muslim leaders also took part.) This pastor received a reprimand from his church body’s national president for worshiping with the wrong people, or at least for creating the impression that such worship is OK; he apologized publicly; much of the internet got justifiably angry; some internet wingnuts from this conservative church body, to which I used to belong, are still defending the whole reprimand/apology episode with cries of “unionism” and “syncretism.”

Or here’s another one: The same week my Lutheran story blew up, a noted author of fiction took to the web denouncing Taylor Swift, in part because her “sounds are free of the thrill of players playing together.” Just like the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Prince… are we still having these arguments?

Other people’s arbitrary orthodoxies never fail to make me angry, but then I feel immediate relief that I’m not bound by such b.s. I’m not sure who’s calling “sacrilege” on Karen O, especially since she’s been major-label her entire album career, so maybe “Sacrilege” is simply about a guy and she’s not being overly defensive about the mechanics of selling out. Either way, it would’ve livened up the City of Angels soundtrack.

GOAT OF THE MONTH:

Chris Tomlin
Burning Lights
(Six Steps)

Whyever God gives us the capacity for chills, I sometimes get them when people do their jobs surprisingly well, so in this public forum I’ll admit that Tomlin’s latest single, “Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies),” did the trick. Not that Tomlin succeeding at his job should be a surprise, but he’s helping me to do my job — it’s the time of year when I scrounge around for Easter Vigil music, and “Angel Armies” fits well the Exodus story. It’s all coming together! So I’m thankful to Mr. Tomlin, whom I admire, and I also love the trumpet on “God’s Great Dance Floor” — it sounds like he’s been listening to Lionel Richie lately AND SO HAVE I. Unfortunately, most of Burning Lights sounds like Tomlin’s spinning his (admittedly well-constructed and durable) wheels. The tunes are so-so, his foursquare rhythms don’t give the band anything to do, and the second half is soooo… slooooooow. A humble suggestion from one (admittedly less accomplished) worship leader to another: if you play “Crown Him With Many Crowns” a little faster, people won’t have to take breaths in the middle of words.

OTHER GOATS:

Casting Crowns
The Acoustic Sessions: Volume 1
(Beach Street/Reunion)

These musical ministers rarely sound like they’re selling you something, and more like they’re trying to smack complacent Christians in the head. Spiritual wisdom aside, smacking is a smart aesthetic choice, and “If We Are the Body” remains a great prophetic song. Unfortunately, when they strip “American Dream” of its grungy distortion it comes across as condescending to its poor overworked strawman Jack, who never gets to tell his side of the story. Mark Hall might live in a “shack on the Rock,” but it’s gauche to suggest that Jack take the same vow of poverty without letting Jack describe his finances and the pressures driving him to work so much. Maybe Jack should become a stay-at-home dad while his wife works. Maybe the country needs stronger unions and a higher minimum wage so fathers can gain the economic freedom to support their families while spending time with them. In short, “American Dream” sounds more self-righteous than prophetic. Nothing else is so egregious, but the whole album subscribes to the fallacy that acoustic instruments somehow connect more intimately than electric ones. I connect most intimately with music that varies and isn’t boring.

The Joy Formidable
Wolf’s Law
(Atlantic)

Previously charming racketeers, these polite arena wannabes play loud without rocking out, sound oppressive and ethereal at once, and write an album of would-be anthems without any memorable lyrics or melodies. Only exception is the pointed tune about the cactus.

Some of the above thoughts, opinions, and exact words previously appeared at The Singles Jukebox.

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    2 Comments

  • Ray says:

    Howdi!
    I hope you are well and blessed. Just a quick note to say I’m the guy who played the trumpet solo on Gods Great Dancefloor; great to make your acquaintance!

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